Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Horrible Human Being Rises to the Top: AG Jeff Sessions Adopts All-Out Lying as a Legal Tactic

Hearing that Miami-Dade may have collapsed under the contemptible pressure tactics of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions was disheartening. I hold out hope and expectations that other urban areas will be savvy enough to understand that Sessions' club is made of paper mâché.

What makes guys like this tick? Utter, outright racism. It's not complicated.

No, it's not complicated finding the motivation for an attorney general who was once denied the federal bench for being the racist that he is. But what stretches the imagination is that Sessions would imitate his boss, Donald Trump, whose pathological lying has gotten him to the White House with little other gear to help him get anything done.

And yet here we are, with Sessions threatening to withhold federal grants and such from jurisdictions that make themselves sanctuaries for undocumented workers. Nothing less than the Supreme Court has weighed in on such tactics -- on a number of cases -- and so Sessions should understand that he's already on thin ice. But that's not stopping him:
We’re familiar with President Trump’s dystopian vision of an America in chaos, preyed on by foreigners and awash in citizens violated by feral criminals and “illegals.” Through last year’s campaign and into this year, Trump has repeatedly lied about the national crime rate, murder rates and much more. Here though is a case where anti-immigrant policies continue to be justified by at least deliberately misleading statements and what can only be called incitement.
Here’s a statement released today by the Justice Department, justifying a letter sent out to nine so-called “sanctuary cities” threatening loss of federal funds if they don’t collaborate and assist Trump administration immigration policies.
Here’s the second paragraph (emphasis added) …
Additionally, many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels. New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city’s “soft on crime” stance. And just several weeks ago in California’s Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug trafficking, city officials seemed more concerned with reassuring illegal immigrants that the raid was unrelated to immigration than with warning other MS-13 members that they were next.
The second highlighted sentence doesn’t explicitly say the murder rate continues to rise in New York City. But that is certainly the intended impression, along with the dig at ‘soft on crime’ policies.
Read the rest of Josh Marshall's piece to discover what obvious horseshit these claims are. Crime and murder are way down, especially in New York City, and in any event undocumented workers commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.

Just to be clear, there's method to the madness of sanctuary cities. Not only is it a humane way to deal with a problem that's not going away anytime soon, but it's actually a law enforcement tool to reduce crime. NPR had a good piece on this:
But the available data on crime, immigration, and safety in cities does not support the premise for the president's actions. News outlets and researchers pointed out during the presidential campaign that immigrants who are in the country illegally are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the general population. The American Immigration Council noted in a 2015 study that the recent period of rising immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2013 also corresponded with plummeting crime rates across the country.
This past Thursday, a new study conducted Tom K. Wong, a political scientist at the University of California-San Diego, found that there are broad benefits for local jurisdictions that resist cooperating with federal immigration enforcement — they are safer in the aggregate and enjoy stronger economies. "For the first time we're kind of seeing that crime rates are lower when localities stay out of the business of federal immigration enforcement," Wong said.

You'd think an attorney general would want that. You'd be wrong.

We'll see if Sessions pulls off this corrupt bit of Kabuki theater. I say no. Will he become the newest resident of Bullshit Mountain, as Jon Stewart used to call it? It's pretty obvious he already has.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Telling Sanctuary Cities to Enforce Federal Immigration Law: Just How This Works

Umkay. The 10th Amendment more or less says what powers aren't handed to the federal government in the Constitution -- or rightfully given to the federal branch by an act of Congress -- devolves to the states. What's more, the Supreme Court basically said you can't force states to expand Medicaid, under Obamacare, through threat of withholding federal money. And yet Jeff Sessions shall try. Again, and again.

Mr. Attorney General, beat dead horse.

Nobody is going to accuse Jeff Sessions of refusing to swim upstream, or piss into the wind, for that matter. As the chief law enforcement of the United States, enforcing the law is rightfully his business. What should not be his business is engaging in futile pissing contests with the states. And yet:
The Justice Department wrote to eight cities Friday afternoon that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, demanding they submit proof of compliance with federal immigration law and threatening their federal grant money if they fail to do so.
In a statement accompanying the letter to Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, and Sacramento, the Justice Department erroneously equates the cities’ policies limiting information sharing with federal immigration officials with a spike in crime in those areas.
(No spike in crime, lowest crime across the nation in more than four decades, immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born...)

This is not the first time Jefferson Beauregard has issued this threat or, possibly, even the second. Who can count amid the general chaos that is the Trump administration? And yet here we are.
Many legal experts believe this would violate states’ 10th Amendment rights, as well as a number of Supreme Court rulings that held that the federal government cannot coerce local governments to adopt a certain policy by withholding federal funding.
Ya think? So how do you think this will go? Here's my take:
  1. Sessions says what he just said.
  2. Bunch of cities say no.
  3. Sessions finds a willing department that will deny federal funds for something (will he actually find any departments willing to do that? Hmm.).
  4. The cites sue his ass.
  5. A judge issues a stay against the cutoff of funds.
  6. ??? (we wait however long)
  7. A judge rules against Sessions, who appeals and loses, and then appeals and loses, and the Supreme Court rules against him.
  8. ???
  9. Trump gets impeached (or not), or it's 2020 and they're all chased out on their butts.
Something like that. Meanwhile, Jeff and Donald and the meanies act all screw you (mostly) Mexicans, and America rises yet again in the eyes of the world.


GOP Folly Redux: Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves!

Oh my. Here we go again. Reagan tried. Clinton didn't. George W. Bush tried. Obama didn't. Sam Brownback in Kansas and Scott Walker in Wisconsin tried and got the usual "oops, we're broke" result. (Oh, well, slash universities!) Now it's Trump's turn in the barrel? No, it's not. It's our turn.

Who'd a thunk it? Steve Mnuchin plays the trickle-down card. We're screwed.

With any luck, they're screwed instead of us because even some GOPers realize that the last time this song made the charts, it blew up in their faces. But they keep singing it:
“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.
Assuming economic growth based on changes to the tax code is known as “dynamic scoring,” and many conservatives embrace its use when arguing for lower rates. But estimating the future economic impact of tax cuts is very difficult to do, as it requires policy makers to rely on economic forecasts that are often imprecise.
And even if the White House has rosy estimates about the economic impact of the tax cuts, the administration could run into trouble as any plan moves through Congress. That’s because Congress relies on tax analyses performed by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation, which tend to have a more restrained view on the macroeconomic effect of tax cuts.
“We have some evidence about how big these effects can be,” said Donald Marron, a former CBO official who is director of economic policy initiatives at the Urban Institute. “They are not zero, but they are modest.”
Gad, I can't wait to hear Donald Trump with his "We've got the best tax cuts. You've never seen tax cuts until you see how we cut them, that I can tell you."

Actually I can wait. We probably all will. There's no telling when and if this motley crew of pretenders will manufacture a plan that can get through this hyper-dysfunctional Congress. With any luck we'll be spared by the usual suspects: incompetence, chaos, and (gulp, I hope not!) the need to fund Trump's new war.


Note. I assume everybody with an ounce of intelligence and native honesty knows this, but I still should have slipped it in: TAX CUTS NEVER PAY FOR THEMSELVES.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Being a Horrible Human Being Has Its Rewards.

Fox News has been an odious and unending component of the Limbaugh-Drudge-Murdoch triumvirate, and, I suppose, is not going away anytime soon. Still, the idea that horrible men -- and their actions and ideas -- rate this kind of payday just to get rid of them is beyond horrid. It's an indictment of what the sordid underbelly of our society has become and a reminder of what it's always been.

"Fuck these guys" is too weak a send-off but might be all we can manage.

Bill O'Reilly behaved badly and got paid goodly:
Former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly will receive $25 million as part of his settlement to leave the network in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, according to a source familiar with the matter. 
O’Reilly’s most recent contract provides that he can receive a maximum of one year’s salary upon departure, according to a second source familiar with the matter. The news host’s most recent contract is said to be worth $25 million a year.
Welcome to our world. No wonder "grab them by the pussy" is a battle cry, not a surrender, in an American presidential race.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The GOP Is Not Even Good at Destroying Healthcare, Let Alone Making it "Better."

In light of the new letter by leaders in the healthcare industry -- that includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce! -- How is it that the controlling Republicans are still trying to figure out how to fuck up healthcare for as many Americans as possible? (It's how they roll.)

People waiting in line for a flu shot.

As we speak, California Democrats are visiting Canada to see how their single-payer system works, and several states, including California, are thinking about going it alone with their own healthcare systems.

And yet the U.S., stymied by the dithering of our GOP-dominated Congress, can't even agree on just how bad we can make it for our citizens. The GOP wants more misery and death; Democrats want less misery and death. You'd think no misery and death would be the goal, but go figure.

Speaking of going and figuring, The conservative-led UK, once of the vaunted National Health Service, have recently been chipping away at the universality of its own healthcare system. The culprit? Underfunding:
The body that represents hospitals across England has issued a startling warning that the NHS is close to breaking point because of its escalating cash crisis.
Years of underfunding have left the service facing such “impossible” demands that without urgent extra investment in November’s autumn statement it will have to cut staff, bring in charges or introduce “draconian rationing” of treatment – all options that will provoke public disquiet, it says.

In an unprecedentedly bleak assessment of the NHS’s own health, NHS Providers, which speaks for hospital trust chairs and chief executives, tells ministers that widespread breaches of performance targets, chronic understaffing and huge overspends by hospitals mean that it is heading back to the visible decline it last experienced in the 1990s.
So even a leading developed nation can unravel a system that's known for universality. As for the U.S., we're in a life-and-death battle just to preserve what we've got. An excerpt from a letter from leading healthcare insurers, healthcare providers, and even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
A critical priority is to stabilize the individual health insurance market. The window is quickly closing to properly price individual insurance products for 2018.
 
The most critical action to help stabilize the individual market for 2017 and 2018 is to remove uncertainty about continued funding for cost sharing reductions (CSRs). Nearly 60 percent of all individuals who purchase coverage via the marketplace – 7 million people – receive assistance to reduce deductibles, co-payments, and/or out-of-pocket limits through CSR payments. This funding helps those who need it the most access quality care: low- and modest-income consumers earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level.  If CSRs are not funded, Americans will be dramatically impacted...
Read the whole letter here. Those CSRs are currently the football the Trump administration and Congress are tossing back and forth. Anti-ACA hawks, like HHS Secretary Tom Price, want to toss them out altogether, which would cause Obamacare to collapse. Trump is considering dangling them in front of Democrats in hopes of getting them to vote for some form of ACA repeal. Minority Leader Chuck Shumer is leaning toward a "go ahead, make my day" position on Trump's threat. TPM has a good recap of the back and forth:
Trump, in his Wall Street Journal interview, hinted that he is ready to hold Republicans in a separate vice, of similarly questionable construction, by vowing to withhold releasing the White House’s tax reform plan until a health care bill is passed.
To recap: Trump, in his kamikaze-style of political hard ball, is currently a man on an island. He stands alone – apart from congressional Republicans, the health care industry and even the Chamber of Commerce – in holding a gun to the head of a subsidies program that benefits 7 million people.
And in stating those intentions explicitly, Trump made it hard to blame anyone else for pulling the trigger.
Donald Trump, for all the private tutors working the Oval Office, hasn't learned much -- or accomplished much -- in his first 100 days. He's getting nowhere fast, and as Martha Stewart used to say, it's a good thing.


Note.  I've concluded recently that the reason so many Americans -- and possibly now Brits -- are against universal healthcare, even though it would be good for them, is that they don't want to see the wrong people get services they don't "deserve." By this I mean black and brown people, or even "white trash." As for Brits, I think Brexit, as well as the declining NHS, is the result of not wanting those foreigners or Muslims to get what is rightfully reserved for "their own."

This is self-defeating thinking, but tell that to the rubes that have so far propped up Donald Trump and the Republican congresspeople. But that time is coming to an end. A majority of Americans support Obamacare, and a majority would support single-payer. People want their healthcare now, which it's why the GOP was so fired up against Obamacare in the first place, knowing that once people got it they'd never give it back. The genie may be out of the bottle, making repeal-and-replace doubly hard, if not impossible. Let''s hope so.


Monday, April 10, 2017

If America Is Messed Up, Who Can Fix It? Is That Even the Right Question?

In a world in which quite nearly everything imaginable has already been imagined, it's not surprising that what could solve our problems is right in front of our faces.

So, why did you go back to sleep?

Who can fix it isn't the right question. And, no, in my intro I don't mean to suggest we've discovered all we're ever really going to discover. There is so much undiscovered country.

But I do mean to suggest that we know enough about how to live, about how to get along, about how to navigate toward a world that celebrates the common good and away from one that encourages narcissistic, greedy individualism.

The who should do it is answered. Us. It's the how that needs to be rediscovered, reembraced. I was reminded of that in a Jacob Sugarman interview of the British documentarian Adam Curtis in Salon.

Curtis, who says his favorite theme is "power and how it works in society," hit several strong notes in this interview. First, was the notion of "hypernormalisation."
AC: The term was created by a guy called Alexei Yurchak, who wrote a book about the last days of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. What he described was a world where everyone knew that the system in place wasn’t working and that the politicians didn’t believe it any longer. Yet at the same time, because they didn’t have any alternative, everyone just accepted it as normal even though they knew it was abnormal. So he gave it this term hypernormalisation. I’m not trying to say that the West is in any way like the Soviet Union at all. It’s very different. What I was trying to argue, or imply in this film gently, was that we may be in a very similar situation where we know that the system has become somewhat corrupted. But more than that, we know that those in charge don’t really believe in the system any longer, have no vision of the future. And what’s more, they know that we know that.
This is a great insight. Liberals, in a sense, can be defined as those who have come to understand the corruption of capitalism in a sea of under-regulated, dysfunctional markets, which, by the way, is the system conservatives have come to appreciate as the way it's supposed to be, even if it's essentially the way the greedy elite continue unabated to line their pockets. Conservative politicians thrive in this system. The donor class sustains the political class, which in turn feeds the donor class. Crafty closed loop.

A few years back, Occupy Wall St. came along with, according Curtis, most but not all of what it takes to be a positive force for real change. Part of the problem with the Occupy movement was the milieu in which it arose, but that was only part of the problem.
JS: I can’t help but notice that the kind politics you’re advocating sound a lot like those Obama ran on in 2008. Do you think he failed to live up to the promises of that campaign? Is Donald Trump a part of his legacy now?
AC: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I think Obama was a very decent guy. Since the early 1990s, real power has shifted away from politicians to all sorts of institutions that we almost don’t have the perception apparatus to see or understand. Frankly, a journalist doesn’t. I think Obama found himself facing a lot of that. But it’s us as well. At the same time that Obama came to power, we, the liberals, the Democrats, the progressives retreated to digital playgrounds owned by five or six very giant corporations. I think they left Obama quite isolated, actually. So far from snarling and spitting at him, which much of the left has done, they should actually turn around and look at themselves and wonder, possibly did we go down the wrong avenue believing all that internet utopianism? I just think that it’s time for a little humility among some of the progressives in their attitude to Obama.
As I point out in Hypernormalisation, the Occupy movement had a fantastic slogan and the goodwill of lots of people who would normally never support a rebellious movement like that. Yet when they actually got together, they found they had no ideas. I think it’s pretty rich that they then turned around and tried to blame Obama for not having a picture of the future when, quite frankly, they didn’t. If you want to change the world, A, you’ve got to work at it very hard, and B, you’ve got to challenge power, and that’s quite frightening and quite difficult, and you have to have a very strong idea of what you want.
"They found out they had no ideas." Wow. Nail, hit on head. It reminds me of two of the key threads of the countercultural movement into which I emerged out of high school. One was the anti-war movement, and the other was the civil rights movement that immediately preceded it. Both were totally immersed in and powered by action, positive, take-to-the-streets action, which of course could describe the Occupy movement. But what we had back then were concrete ideas: War in and of itself was bad, and if it wasn't outright bad, then the concept of a bad war was. With civil rights, again, we had the concrete: Discrimination was wrong. The first focus was race, but that moved quickly to sex, religion, gender, creed. These are powerful, concrete ideas upon which to base action.

Occupy had a problem: Carrying signs decrying the 1% wasn't enough. Basically what Occupy was saying was, "Give us back a big chunk of our money, or we're going to stay in this park and repeat after each other."

Liberals do have ideas, concrete ideas, but putting these into action is hard, not undoable, just hard. And, as Occupy proved, having no leaders is a drawback. Bernie Sanders is a leader, and he essentially has the right ideas -- so does Thomas Picketty in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century. So does Paul Krugman and a dozen or more other liberal economists who write and talk about social justice and income inequality regularly.

Basically we need an active movement, with strong leaders, that moves away from individualistic greed and towards the common good, which involves a wholesale redistribution of wealth. To accomplish this we need to abandon unfettered markets and embrace communitarianism. That will be a hard sell in this country. But it's what's needed. We have the ideas, and, after the election of Trump, we may have the bodies. Time to get to work.
 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

When Can Civil Rights Truly Become Civil Rights? Right Now. (Don't Tell Gorsuch.)

I've noticed this trend in a few recent rulings, and I've wondered if it has legs, meaning will the Supreme Court buy it? I say no, now that Neil Gorsuch is around to rule that religious liberty means denying liberty to others. Thanks, Trump.

I've got a feeling only religious assholes are going to like this guy.
Or, as Mike Pence might say, mission accomplished.

Salon featured a new decision by an en banc panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that reimagines a precedent using today's meaning of words. This flies in the face of originalist, or strict constructionist, interpretations of our laws. Generally, precedent has been set by an "original" reading of a law. But what good is a precedent if its meaning is locked in stone but our society is not?

Conservative judges would argue that locking archaic moralistic judgments in stone is the goal of originalism. What's the best way to interpret law? Why, as if it's 1787 all over again.

The best way to treat the LGBT? As if sex is only between a husband and his obedient wife. The best way to treat a gun issue? As if an AR-15 is the same as a flintlock.

But the Seventh Circuit just reminded us there is a newer, better way: What's the situation here and now, today, between modern people employing modern meanings of words? That's a different kettle of fish, as it should be.

So civil rights should include all rights, not just those referred to in the Constitution as if it were still 1787, and not just those rights according to dictionaries in the 1960s. In Salon:
An appeals court ruled in support of LGBT rights this week, reversing decades of interpretation that largely allowed companies to discriminate against workers on the basis of sexual orientation.
In their groundbreaking decision, nine of 12 judges in an en banc panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals said that gay and lesbian workers are protected under Title VII. The Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College decision marks a major break from an interpretation that excluded sexual orientation, except in instances where one could make an argument of gender nonconformity. That meant that, previously, in order for workers to prove discrimination under Title VII, they had to allege that they were being discriminated against because they were not acting according to the stereotype associated with their gender.
[...]
She then filed her case in federal district court, again bringing forward the simple argument that Title VII should protect a worker from being discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation. The district court was sympathetic to her claim, but explained that Title VII prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” and explained that the court’s precedent “has held that Congress intended the term ‘sex’ to mean ‘biological male or biological female,’ and not one’s sexuality or sexual orientation. Thus, ‘harassment based solely upon a person’s sexual preference or orientation . . . is not an unlawful employment practice under Title VII.’”
The appeals court rejected this longstanding reading, stating that “it would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’ The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results, as our panel opinion illustrated so well.”
The court further explained that whatever Congress meant in 1964 when it passed the law, or however courts have interpreted the law in the intervening decades, it was no longer tenable to exclude sexual orientation.
Famously, it was the Supreme Court that opened the door to this dismissal of precedent when they, under the leadership of Anthony Kennedy, decided in favor of same-sex marriage. And lower courts have increasingly found their way clear to say, as it were, that civil rights apply to all, not just those defined at the time a law was written.

When "sex" was inserted in a list of things for which one shouldn't be discriminated against, legislatures who wrote these laws, courts that interpreted them, and executive branches that enforced them envisioned sex between biological opposites. But when the meaning of sex changes, the civil rights afforded individuals must change, as well.

It's not that complicated, but tell that to Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito. It will make their eyes bleed. Thus we have the refuge of originalism or strict constructionism, or, as I would prefer it, the last refuge of legal scoundrels.

Parenthetically, this is the one last debate that controls much of our debates: Trump was elected by white Christian men to preserve the prerogatives of white Christian men. Though they represent that same 30-35%, at most, of Americans who have managed, inexplicably, to bring Republicans to power across the country, they are in fact a declining minority. It's depressing the amount of damage they've managed to cause in the meantime. What once was the shining hope of the world has been reduced to a crude joke of a nation, held in suspicion and contempt by an increasingly dubious world. And that is pretty messed up.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Donald Trump Proves He's "Presidential" by Ordering an Ineffectual Air Raid Without Pissing His Pants.

I was mortified to watch the media -- especially cable -- get man-crushes on the Donald, simply because he joined the Big Boy Club of people who throw missiles around. Maybe some people actually died. That would be even better!

Now you've bombed somebody, Donald. Feel better?

In all seriousness, I'm being derisive because this knee-jerk reaction -- bombing for peace -- is getting old. But explain this: When's the last time this worked out? Okay, Clinton handled Bosnia and Kosovo pretty well. At least that war is well behind us, with few ghosts.

The rest of them, from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq (I and II, and, weirdly, now a sort of III with Mosul), our support for Israeli wars, the Arab Spring conflicts, and, Christ, Afghanistan and now Syria, well, it's a list of messes left unfixed. Can we stop the bombing already?

(Apropos of nothing, I suppose, but Jimmy Carter is the only president since Herbert Hoover to not bomb or shoot at anyone. He's looking pretty good about now.)

Atrios calls them Freedom Bombs, and, as he's right to remind us, how's that working out? We've got the biggest, nastiest armed forces in the freaking world, fine, but what did we get from crashing that air field? This?
(CNN) New airstrikes targeted a town in Syria that was hit by a chemical attack earlier this week, activists said, less than a day after the US bombarded a Syrian airbase to "send a message" to the Assad regime.
And the strikes were flown from the very base Trump ordered bombed. Thank God we did that without having any effect. Still, it was presidential. Everybody said so. Fareed Zakaria, Lindsay Graham, Brian Williams, David Ignatius. Haven't checked yet, but I'm sure Tom Friedman chimed in.

I wonder how stern, measured, and wise John McCain will be on the Sunday shows. Maybe he can explain how we're "winning." Because someone needs to help me out here.


Update. Dan Rather weighs in. (All the media apparently aren't crazy.)


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Trump University Scam Was Strictly a Family Affair

The true reach of the scam was right under our eyes. A guy named John Mashey uncovered it for us.

Bunch of fuckers, the whole lot of them.

Came across this tweet while sifting through a Twitter thread attacking Sean Spicer for lying to the press about Donald Trump's revised "trust" doc (not sure it's a trust, it's so full of holes). Anyway:


There you have it. The whole family plus Trump's CFO. You don't have to go far to go figure.

Not-so-random thought: Just how many nasty critters can fit under one rock?


McCain Calls the "Nuclear Option" Stupid Before Voting for It.

John McCain, long the leader of the free world -- hell, maybe even of the known universe, if only measured by the several million times he's been on the Sunday morning talk shows -- has finally demonstrated the sleight of hand by which he wields the levers of power. And here I thought only Donald Trump had mastered knuckleheadedness to black-belt status.

At long last John McCain has outstripped his own baloney.

I suppose I shouldn't cast blame only on McCain. All fifty-two Republican senators voted to blow up the filibuster. But this? Really?


Johnny, you have redefined outrage, for generations to come.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Speaking of Dishonesty, Is the Long, Right-Wing Grift Grinding to a Close? (Probably Not Soon Enough)

Hard to tell. Bill O'Reilly may finally get his comeuppance as sponsors leave him in droves, but it's hard to wean the rubes from the far-right teets they've been sucking on. But at least it's starting to be out in the open.

Illustration: Jim Cooke/FMG

Atrios flagged one part of the story by Alex Pareene. Here's my slice:
For years, the conservative movement peddled one set of talking points to the rabble, while its elites consumed a more grounded and reality-based media. The rubes listened to talk radio, read right-wing blogs, watched Fox News. They were fed apocalyptic paranoia about threats to their liberty, racial hysteria about the generalized menace posed by various groups of brown people, and hysterical lies about the criminal misdeeds of various Democratic politicians. The people in charge, meanwhile, read The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard, and they tended to have a better grasp of political reality, as when those sources deceived their readers, it was mostly unintentionally, with comforting fantasies about the efficacy of conservative policies. From the Reagan era through the Bush administration, the system seemed to be performing as designed.
The funny thing is that Donald Trump may not be sophisticated enough to know not to drink from the same well as the poor stiffs who believe him. A snake-oil salesman eating his own tail?
The bottom-feeding amorality of the sorts of people who sponsored the right-wing press, and the crummy nature of the products and services sold, shows exactly who was supposed to be consuming it: suckers. Or, more specifically, trusting retirees, with a bit of disposable income, and a natural inclination to hate modernity and change—an inclination that could be heightened, radicalized, and exploited.
I'm just cynical enough to accept that maybe this is the way civilizations die, or at least one of the ways. A non-intellectual bubble within an intellectual one, with the manipulators feeding the rubes in a not-quite circular fashioning of epistemic closure. It's grotesque and probably, in this day and age, increasingly dangerous.

I don't feel good.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Good News Even Trump Can't Screw Up: Natural Ways to Clean Water

It's not even being cynical to realize that the current Republican regime led by Trump is so anti-science that creative ways to produce safe drinking water would rile conservative ideology. Let's hope they don't hear about it and fight to defund it.

This is no way to live, but two billion people worldwide are water-insecure.

Good news is hard to find these days, and that's why this article at Salon is so uplifting:
Then there’s the most unlikely of purification tools: human waste. While places like California are sanitizing sewer water to make it available for drinking, this process is expensive and energy-intensive — i.e., not reasonable for the developing world. In these traditional treatment plants, the water in sewage is separated from biomass via filters, before being sanitized with UV light. Imagine instead a machine that can turn sewage into clean drinking water in a process so efficient, it produces enough electricity to power itself and the surrounding area.
That’s the idea behind the Omni-Processor, a wastewater purification machine the size of a couple of school buses. It converts sewage water to vapor, at which point the biomass portion drops out so that it can be burned for power. Then, this vapor is converted back into water, minus any human waste. The first Omni-Processor model has been undergoing field testing in Senegal since May of 2015, where it’s now capable of processing 4,000 tons of sludge per year. The second model, which has double the capacity, was recently shipped to West Africa, where it will be able to produce nearly 12,000 gallons of potable water per day.
Great stuff. By the way, it's not a joke that Republicans would not favor wasting money on this sort of innovation. Here's how White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney views famine relief, via Mother Jones:
Starvation and famine? Yawn. Another reporter asked Mulvaney about the administration's plans to reduce spending on the United Nations and foreign aid, despite famine and starvation facing 20 million people—a "humanitarian crisis," according to the UN. "Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer?" the reporter asked. "We're absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs," Mulvaney said. "That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign."
Heartless is the new normal.


Friday, March 31, 2017

West Virginia Is Living in a Culture of Nostalgia for a Time Long Gone, and "Clean" Coal Ain't Bringing It Back

Trump is a decent salesman, granted, but he's still selling snake oil when it comes to bringing jobs back that have disappeared for good.


The chart above shows the real truth of the matter. These days, there are 20 thousand coal jobs in West Virginia and just under 120 thousand healthcare jobs, required to take care of an aging population.

As Paul Krugman points out:
Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction techniques — like blowing the tops off mountains — require far less labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap natural gas.
So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.
Due to the aging of West Virginians -- and a heritage of bad health brought on, yes, by the coal industry itself -- healthcare and social services account for five times the jobs that West Virginians do compared to coal, regardless of the continuing, but waning, cultural image of a time when "men were men, and miners dug deep."

If coal comes back as an industry -- and that's a real long shot, given the rise of cheaper, cleaner alternatives -- maybe a few dozen jobs will result. Try telling that to the ever-present West Virginian Trump voter, and you'll get an earful. What you, and that West Virginian, won't get is very many new jobs in coal country.

It's time to dig deep all right, and hope to find new industries -- God forbid they'd be in renewable energy alternatives! -- and build a new future in an aging state. Because, as Krugman says, coal is a state of mind, not a viable trade for tomorrow.

To drive the point home:


Where are those new WV jobs coming from? The Medicaid expansion, with all those new citizens with health coverage from Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. So, can Trump cure West Virginia's problems by pushing coal and slamming Obamacare? No. That's a recipe for disaster in coal country. Who will it hurt? Uh, Trump voters, to be sure.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Really Bad News for Trump: Trump Voters Are Beginning to Dislike Him.

I didn't see this coming, mostly because Donald Trump knows how to reach his people. But now he's not doing that. The latest polling bears that out.

I don't think another rally is going to fix this.

Let's face it, Donald, polling shit just got real:
A drop of five percentage points among Republicans isn’t ideal, but it’s not that huge a deal. A drop of nine points among independents, though, is a loss of more than one-fifth of Trump’s support from that group over the last two months. That’s a brutal decline that may start to make Republicans nervous about how he could affect their electoral prospects over the long-term. Among those who identify as independents ideologically (as opposed to their partisan identification), the drop was 11 points, a loss of nearly a third of all support from that group since Jan. 20.
Other groups saw less-steep but still-important drops, like those Republicans. White voters have dropped under 50 percent support as has support from regular churchgoers. Those without a college degree — a bastion of Trump support — have dropped from 48 percent to 42 percent.
Trump's gone underwater with everyone, even with groups that should be his fans. Now, he can wait for things to get better. Re-election is years away. But for members of Congress, especially the House, it begins in earnest only months away. Even what's happening now begins to signal difficulties they'll face.

Do they want The Orange One dragging them down? No, they don't. So getting those badly needed votes for the Trump Agenda (whatever that is) will be difficult to impossible moving forward, especially if Trump keeps fucking up everyday or every other day. I wouldn't wanna be him, believe me.

To quote a somewhat dated line from Huey Lewis: Sometimes bad is bad.


Justice Samuel Alito, Anti-Gay Snowflake

I willingly admit I was just a little bit Alito on gay issues until I snapped out of it a few years back (true about a lot of us). Nonetheless (or because of it), I'm allowed to criticize the real Alito, who is a Grand-Canyon-sized hypocrite.

Awwh, Sammy, gays a little too icky for you?

I read two Slate articles back to back that ring true about sexual orientation discrimination. The first showed that the law -- and even the freaking Constitution -- fundamentally protects against just about any form of discrimination you can think of, including what the folks in Independence Hall in Philadelphia contemplated when the came up with the Bill of Rights. True, the founding fathers didn't anticipate its application to gay rights:
Next, Katzmann described what I call the Loving theory of sex discrimination, which appealed to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals when it confronted this issue in November. In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that anti-miscegenation laws do not discriminate on the basis of race because whites and blacks in interracial relationships were punished equally. The Loving court found that anti-miscegenation laws still constituted race discrimination because they punished romantic association on the basis of race. Courts have since extended that logic to Title VII, holding that when an employer discriminates against an employee for associating with black people, it has engaged in race discrimination.
“Once we accept this premise,” Katzmann wrote, “it makes little sense to carve out same‐sex relationships as an association to which these protections do not apply, particularly where, in the constitutional context, the Supreme Court has held that same‐sex couples cannot be “lock[ed] … out of a central institution of the Nation’s society,” citing Obergefell v. Hodges and United States v. Windsor. “In sum, if it is race discrimination to discriminate against interracial couples, it is sex discrimination to discriminate against same‐sex couples.”
What I found so brilliant about Katzmann's theory is that it gets to the heart of civil rights: If it's discrimination one way, it's discrimination all ways. Apply the logic. If it's wrong to tell interacial couples they can't marry -- or tell blacks they can't use this or that restroom or they can't have this or that job -- it's also wrong when applied to gays, trans, or other differently sexually oriented people. You might call it the Unified Theory of Discrimination.

Before I get to the second article, let me offer that this Unified Theory of Discrimination doesn't apply to "religious liberty" because the First Amendment specifically crafted a separation of church and state with its Establishment Clause. With that in mind....

Next was the article about Alito himself, anti-gay snowflake, because being Catholic is so, er, hard.
Poor Samuel Alito! The Supreme Court justice has so much to be upset about. Sure, he’s about to gain an ally on the bench in his ceaseless fight against unions, women’s rights, the environment, and LGBTQ equality. But in spite of all that, gay people can get married in America—and that makes Alito very sad. So on Wednesday, he spoke to Advocati Christi, a Catholic lawyers’ association, about the grievous threat that marriage equality poses to religious liberty. From the Associated Press:
Alito used his own words from his dissent in the Supreme Court’s landmark same-sex marriage case, telling the gathering he had predicted opposition to the decision would be used to “vilify those who disagree, and treat them as bigots.”
“We are seeing this is coming to pass,” he said. … “A wind is picking up that is hostile to those with traditional moral beliefs.”
Oh, dear. The dystopia that Alito describes really is quite chilling: a world in which religious conservatives cannot use the law to restrict the rights of minorities without … being criticized. Can you imagine it? Surely our founders did not write the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause with the intent to protect criticism of political beliefs. Have the bounds of discourse really been so corrupted that Americans believe they can publicly denounce anti-gay activists? Using mean words? What has this once great nation come to?
Poor wittle Awito! The First Amendment might let people -- who think he's been mean to them -- be mean right back. Oh, heavenly vapors!

Straight up, I believe that religion is antiquated superstition, not to mention that THE FIRST AMENDMENT DOESN'T ALLOW THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A RELIGION, CHRISTIANITY OR OTHERWISE. Can't say that loudly enough. This nonsense of religious freedom is an improper application of the Establishment Clause because people's religious beliefs can't be imposed on others, which is exactly what Alito's fav, Hobby Lobby, imposed.

So, Sammy, you won one with Hobby, so fuck off with your "they're so mean to us Catholics" meme. The Constitution doesn't give you a safe space or offer you a pass from microaggressions, you precious little snowflake.

Monday, March 27, 2017

What Americans Need to Understand about Health Insurance

Of course, the best way to "understand" health insurance is to eliminate it (no more Mr. Middleman!), but if we have to have it, at least we should know how it works (or should work).

Auto insurance is mandatory so we can all afford it, even on a BMW.

We insure things -- and lives -- to cover risk, the risk of crashing, of getting injured, of dying. The reason we can afford insurance at all is that everyone, or a reasonable proportion of people, buys it.

Car insurance is affordable because, by law, everyone has to have it. Health insurance isn't affordable -- in the U.S. -- because not everyone has to have it. That was true until Obamacare. One of Obamacare's legs in the three-legged stool was the mandate. Unfortunately, that's been weakened through a late roll out and now a lack of enforcement (if Trump gets his way).

The thing that everyone must understand about everyone having health insurance is that just because you don't need it doesn't mean you shouldn't purchase it anyway. Why? Because the system of insurance is designed so that those who don't need it pay for those who do. Eventually the favor will be returned.

When the young, buff, and healthy turn old and gray -- and sick -- a new crop of young, buff, and healthy will step up and take care of the old. It's the way it's supposed to work and those who say, "The hell if I'm going to pay for the bastards" are actually ditching their responsibility. Also, if everyone pays, the risk pool is big enough to bring and hold costs down, yes, for everyone.

So, dammit, conservatives, take responsibility. That's what you claim you do, right?


Conservatives Beginning to Think Truthtelling Might Be the Way to Go

Imagine a whole political movement so devoted to winning the messaging wars that it forgot that using the truth was the best way to do it. You'd be thinking of conservatism.

Never liked him, but never had reason to distrust him.

My dad, an LBJ liberal, watched Buckley all the time because he wanted to know what the other side was thinking. As a kid, I never liked Buckley because he seemed too glib and cynical. Of course it would be years before I knew what glib and cynical meant, but it turned out, in my view, I was right.

But I never thought he was outright lying to me. When he started the National Review, I'm sure it was a sincere attempt to counter the message of The Nation and The New Republic, which came over our transom at home. I was too busy listening to rock 'n' roll to read them. That was then, and this is now, when I eat, sleep, and breath politics and economics (Okay, I golf, play music, work out, cook, and live, of course).

Flash forward a few decades, and we live in a world where the right wing of American politics came to value their ability to control the message, something they do very well. It's become an art form for them. Frank Luntz is a great practitioner of it. As an example (he loves to offer this one up himself), Luntz said the best way to sell a bill or a regulation that lowers pollution standards is to call it the Healthy Skies Initiative. See how it's done?

That tendency to misinform, dissemble, and outright lie has grown among conservatives to the extent that there's no comparison with the other, liberal side, whose very liberalism actually curtails the abuse of the truth. We liberals still think that truth is our secret weapon. Yes, we're not always pure, but against the conservatives there's no fair comparison. Think Bill O'Reilly vs. Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity vs. Chris Hayes, and Rush Limbaugh vs. Michael Smerconish.

Now for the late lede: So, apparently, some on the right side of the media are beginning to agree that they've left the truth too far behind. The new editor of The Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes, has decided that bunk is bunk and no longer a handy cudgel to reach for. He thinks truth might be coming back into fashion.
Mr. Hayes shares the viewpoint of another prominent Wisconsin conservative, Charlie Sykes, the #NeverTrump talk radio host who declared last year that he and his fellow conservative media stalwarts had been too successful in delegitimizing the mainstream news media.
“We destroyed our own immunity to fake news while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right,” Mr. Sykes wrote in The Times last year.
Mr. Hayes said he put more of the onus for that on the mainstream news media than Mr. Sykes does (though Mr. Sykes certainly puts some there). It has undercut itself with conservative-leaning readers, he said, through “the questions that aren’t asked and aren’t covered” in a way that seems to favor liberal viewpoints.
Yet the effect remained: There are right-leaning voters who “don’t believe what they’re getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets” and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.
At the "expense of true information" indeed. By the way, I've enjoyed seeing Charlie Sykes -- who's often on MSNBC now that he reformed -- because his candor is so refreshing among the stalwarts of right-wing radio from whence he's sprung.

The right, of course, has Donald Trump to blame for its predicament. That and the generalized epistemic closure that brought The Orange One to power.

Interesting factoid that I didn't know: The Weekly Standard was owned by Rupert Murdoch until he sold it in 2009. No wonder it was so right-wing and prone to disinformation, and no wonder it's ready to experiment with the truth. We wish it, and Stephen F. Hayes, luck.


Paul Ryan, Policy Wonk? More Like a Policy ((BONK!!))

Paul Krugman went after Paul Ryan's fake wonkishness years ago. Now everyone is finally catching on.


Those of us who've been schooled in real math and real economics -- often by Paul Krugman (there are others, like Dean Baker, Jared Bernstein, Joe Stiglitz) -- long ago stopped being fooled by Paul Ryan's policy wonk schtick. Now, after his healthcare disaster, he may never get away with it again:
During last year’s Republican primaries, Marco Rubio famously described Donald Trump as a “con artist.” But this week, with the disastrous rollout of the American Health Care Act, we’ve seen the con artist get played by an even slicker, more professional grifter. And Trump is not alone in being conned: House Speaker Paul Ryan has been fooling a lot of people for a long time, making the world believe that he’s the foremost Republican policy wonk, an expert in the fine print of budgets who could bring a much-needed seriousness to Washington. In an ideal world, the damage caused by Ryan’s role in pushing the deeply flawed AHCA won’t be limited to his relationship with Trump. This episode should strike at the real root cause of the mess: The powerful, persistent Washington myth that Ryan is a policy genius.
Ouch indeed. I'm sure folks like David Brooks -- that never learn -- will still throw the policy-wonk moniker his way occasionally, but let's hope it completely disappears among the actual intelligentsia. Knucklehead is more like it.

And, for good measure, read how Politico summed up Ryan's catastrophic bill.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why the Ryan/Trump "Obamacare Repeal and Replace" Didn't Succeed

I've been reading a lot of autopsies of the AHCA failure. They generally miss the mark.

Dumb and Dumber.

You only need to know two things about the AHCA failure:
  • Donald Trump didn't really know what was in the bill. But the bullet points sounded okay.
  • Paul Ryan wasn't trying to reform healthcare. He was trying to pull a fast one: He was really trying to repeal Medicaid. He wrapped it in a tax cut as a sweetener.
Therefore, when their party looked at the bill, they couldn't see any there there. When the conservatives demanded and got some there there, the moderates said no way.

So why did the conservatives vote it down anyway? Trump pissed them off with threats to "go after them." They're pliant, but they're not going to let some fucking dick play them, especially some fucking dick named Donald Trump.

There it is. If Trump knew how to play well with the other kids, he might have gotten his way. Good to know.


Crafting Legislation Is Like Making Sausage Except When It's Like Killing People

I looked at the American Health Care Act and couldn't see any health care. It could be because it wasn't there.

This is the smile of a man who has nothing to smile about.

Can anyone recall any bit of "legislating" that resembled the last nineteen days? The Republicans introduce a bill on March 6th, ram it through two committees with no witnesses or public debate, do the same through a couple other committees in the ensuing two weeks, again with no expert testimony or public debate, and then set it for a vote on March 23rd because it was the seventh anniversary of the ACA passage. We'll kill Obamacare on its seventh birthday, except...oh, wait. We can't.

A day later, amid sturm and drang and Donald Trump's deal-making superpowers, the House leadership ate a ton of crow followed by a few quarts of Pepto and flushed the repeal down the toilet. Literally, holy shit.

What's the lesson here? It's hard to fathom, but at the center of what happened is that Paul Ryan crafted a bill that actually was an attempt to transfer about a trillion dollars of Medicaid and healthcare spending to the wealthy in the form of tax cuts while pretending its was healthcare reform and Obamacare repeal. But the astounding thing is -- and it can't be said loud enough -- THE BILL FAILED BECAUSE THE MOST CONSERVATIVE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE THOUGHT IT WAS TOO KIND.

Literally, holy shit.

Ryan and Trump tried to make it less kind, BUT THEY COULDN'T MAKE IT LESS KIND ENOUGH FOR THE MOST CONSERVATIVE OF THEIR MEMBERS. In a completely understandable twist, a bunch of not quite so horrible "moderates" peeled off from the whole and opposed the bill because "it didn't lower premiums enough," which is code for "holy crap it's mean and shitty."

A final thought (and I won't shout, but I should): About one hundred eighty or so average, run-of-the-mill Republican House members were quite ready to vote "yes" on this bill. One hundred eighty or so Republicans were quite content to vote for a huge tax cut for the rich masquerading as a fake healthcare bill because, well, it did fuck up Obamacare but good, too. Another day at the office!! Heartlessness and cruelty for the win!!

Yes, that's what happened. In the weirdest of victories, the Democrats won by staying the hell out of the Republicans' way. Funny how that works.


Monday, March 20, 2017

At What Point Does Trump's Compulsive Lying Start Requiring Us to Put "The President" in Air Quotes?

There's not a lot anymore to bolster the claim that Donald Trump knows what it means to be president of the United States -- other than he's free, on the taxpayers' dime, to fly around the country playing golf. The truth isn't a component, apparently, and understanding policy and international diplomacy aren't either.
       
This started years ago, but when is it going to stop? Before or after WWIII?

 Yes, Paul Krugman has it right:
 The New York Times reports it correctly:
The F.B.I. is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government — and whether there was any coordination, Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey said that it was unusual for the F.B.I. to confirm or deny the existence of any investigations, but that in unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau will sometimes discuss such matters.
“This is one of those circumstances,” he said.
[...]
Mr. Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, “We have no information to support” President Trump’s assertion on Twitter that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
“We have no information to support those tweets,” Mr. Comey said, repeating moments later, “All I can tell you is that we have no information that supports them.”
The N.S.A. chief, Admiral Rogers, weighed in as well, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone asking the British or any other ally to wiretap Mr. Trump. That seemed to refute another claim made by the White House.
“I’ve seen nothing on the N.S.A. side that we engaged in such activity, nor that anyone engaged in such activity,” Admiral Rogers said.
He then explicitly denied having any indication that Mr. Trump was wiretapped by British intelligence at the request of Mr. Obama.
There you go. Another unique feature of the hearing was that Donald Trump was tweeting falsehoods or misinformation during the hearing itself.
The White House tweeted Monday that the directors of the FBI and the National Security Agency told Congress Russia did not influence the 2016 presidential election. But to borrow a phrase from the administration’s own parlance, that’s actually fake news.
The tweet, which came from the president's official government Twitter account and was sent out by his staff, tries to bolster the claim with a clip from Monday’s high-profile congressional hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers.
 Of course, Comey and Rogers were commenting on the electoral process itself, the vote count, not whether the outcome -- how and why people voted as they did -- was altered by the Russians.

As long as "the president" chooses to misinform and deceive, by tweet or otherwise, he will be undermining his own standing, his own deteriorating credibility.

Oh, and do I need mention that after this damning testimony, Trump still, via his spokesman, insists that the final word about the Obama "wiretapping" is not in yet?

 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Donald Trump Will Trash Alliances that Have Built Up over Decades, One Piece at a Time.

Never mind the small fry like Mexico, Canada, and Australia. When Trump upends long-standing relationships with allies like the UK, Germany, and Japan, he disrupts what has worked for the U.S. since World War II. And for what?

A picture worth a thousand words: How'd this guy even happen?

Simply put, Donald Trump is very, very bad at diplomacy. This lack of skill in a vital aspect of political life is quite evenly spread among his staff. Sean Spicer, for instance, blew a hole in our "special relationship" with the UK by suggesting their top spy agency helped bad (or sick) guy Barack Obama "tapp" Trump's wires.

Next, Trump used his notorious Twitter finger to insult Germany a mere handful of hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel finished up her dutiful trip to the Trump White House. Not surprisingly, the twin tweets, in which Trump claimed Germany owed NATO and the U.S. "vast sums," was utter nonsense:
Security experts quickly attacked the flaws in Trump’s logic. On Twitter, former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder wrote that increased defense budgets by Germany aren’t transferred to the United States. He also pointed out that NATO decided to make the 2 percent requirement mandatory just a couple of years ago. The alliance gave all member states until 2024 to reach that goal, and Germany is on track.
“Trump’s comments misrepresent the way NATO functions,” Daalder told us. “The President keeps saying that we need to be paid by the Europeans for the fact that we have troops in Europe or provide defense there. But that’s not how it works.”
Naturally Trump would be ignorant -- or simply dense -- of how we structure our defensive posture. Japan and Germany, who lost bigly in WWII, have built up a very small defense force as a grand statement of their permanent goal to settle disputes by peaceful means. This approach has stood the world in good stead for over seventy years. They remain non-violent and give us land to host military bases that expand our reach conveniently and inexpensively near our traditional rivals.

Now, with Trump's election, bull, meet china shop.

As for Japan, he's more than suggested that it should develop nuclear weapons, ostensibly to hold off China and North Korea. Smart!

And as for the UK, the rift about the wiretapping no doubt will heal -- mostly -- but the one serious effect will be that intelligence services across the world cannot trust Trump, who may not realize (what does he realize?) that we depend on international surveillance cooperation for our own national security.

Someone should tell him, someone who's not afraid to intimate that he's a fucking idiot, a dangerous one at that.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

How Donald Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy

Trump ran up against his own words when he issued the first travel ban, which cried out for injunctive relief because of who issued it, not because of what was issued. Here, then, is the person overruling his own interests. It's -- what would you call it? -- Trumpian.

Here's his Hugeness hugely blowing it. How long will his own words haunt him?

Indeed, it's Trump's own words that follow him around, most especially on the pair of travel bans that haven't passed muster with the courts. He may still win, especially in the Supreme Court, but so far his words are trampling on his hoped-for deeds.

Paul Krugman linked to this fascinating post on a legal blog operated in part by Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith questioning the legal rationale for ruling against Donald Trump on his legal ban:
But also there is a third possibility, and we should be candid about it: Perhaps everything Blackman and Margulies and Bybee are saying [in their dissents against injunctions of the travel bans] is right as a matter of law in the regular order, but there’s an unexpressed legal principle functionally at work here: That President Trump is a crazy person whose oath of office large numbers of judges simply don’t trust and to whom, therefore, a whole lot of normal rules of judicial conduct do not apply.
In this scenario, the underlying law is not actually moving much, or moving or at all, but the normal rules of deference and presumption of regularity in presidential conduct—the rules that underlie norms like not looking behind a facially valid purpose for a visa issuance decision—simply don’t apply to Trump. As we’ve argued, these norms are a function of the president’s oath of office and the working assumption that the President is bound by the Take Care Clause. If the judiciary doesn’t trust the sincerity of the president’s oath and doesn’t have any presumption that the president will take care that the laws are faithfully executed, why on earth would it assume that a facially valid purpose of the executive is its actual purpose?
In this scenario, there are really two presidencies for purposes of judicial review: One is the presidency when judges believe the president’s oath—that is, a presidency in which all sorts of norms of deference apply—and the other is a presidency in which judges don’t believe the oath. What we may be watching here is the development of a new body of law for this second type of presidency.
This, we suspect, is the true significance of all of the references in both district court opinions to the many statements made by Trump and his aides about the Muslim ban and the true purpose of the policy effectuated in both orders. These references present, of course, as discussions of whether there is truly a secular purpose to the policy in an Establishment Clause analysis using the Lemon test. But there’s at least a little more going on here than that. The lengthy recitations of large numbers of perfectly objectionable presidential statements about Muslims coexist with a bunch of other textual indicia showing not merely that the judges doubt Trump’s secular purpose but that they doubt the good faith of his purpose at all—indeed, that they suspect that he is simply lying about his own motivations.
A few points. One, a president could normally be afforded deference and granted the right -- on its face -- to assume a national security interest in determining who enters the U.S. Two, what stands in Trump's way is his own widely expressed animus toward the religion in question, Islam. Three, the Lemon test to which the author refers derives from a Supreme Court case that tested the limits of government interference either for or against a religion. (Such interference can be neither.)

Barack Obama would have been afforded that deference. Donald Trump, due to his clear statements wanting to ban Muslims from entering the country, can hardly expect the same deference. And were a court or a judge to wonder how to decide, Trump, because of his numerous statements on the subject, has no doubt illustrated that his travel ban(s) utterly fail a Lemon test.

Those who want Trump to prevail in these disputes state plainly that the law does not allow a policy to be set aside simply because one president is different from another. But anyone who looks at Donald Trump can't help but notice that he's not like other presidents. In many ways, he's thrown the office of the presidency into a kind of chaos by his clearly demonstrated untrustworthiness. His lack of veracity calls into question his actual adherence to his oath of office.

In the end,Trump's faithful adherence to the so-called Take Care clause -- to actually follow the law -- cannot be relied on. Judges trust Trump at their peril. Oh, what a new normal that is.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Tweets Nonsense about "Wiretapping." Why? So Jeff Sessions Lying to Congress Would Fall Off the Front Pages.

Mission accomplished.

Bastard lied to Congress three times to get Attorney General gig. It worked.

I hate to admit that Donald Trump knows what he's doing. It's rancid, embarrassing, but often crudely effective. So it was with his tweets about Obama -- the bad (or sick) guy! -- wiretapping him. Clearly Trump did it to kick the Sessions perjury charges off the front page of every "newspaper" in the country. It worked.

There are consequences, though. Trump, with his continuing denials, has left so many allies and staffers out to dry:
Determining a culprit is an increasingly lonely effort. Initially, a number of Republican lawmakers went out on a limb to defend Trump, saying his wiretapping allegations may well have merit. But after congressional intelligence committees investigating the matter came up empty-handed, Trump's allies went silent or walked their remarks back, leaving senior White House staffers and diehard pro-Trump pundits hanging.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent much of his Thursday briefing filibustering reporters who tried to get him to reconcile Trump's wild allegations with congressional leaders' insistence that they'd seen no evidence to support them. For about seven minutes, Spicer read directly from media reports that he said supported the President’s claims, concluding that “putting the published accounts and common sense together, this leads to a lot.”
Jeff Sessions' job at the DOJ may have been saved, but all of this manipulative behavior by a president that rules by tweets has costs.

At some point, allies and staffers alike will begin to balk at following Trump down his various rabbit holes. When staffers do this, they'll either resign or get fired. If that happens, it will signal the unraveling of this presidency. But that may have begun on day one.

It's degenerated into a third-rate soap opera. That doesn't mean it isn't serious business. Can you say "nuclear codes?"